Category Archives: Hong Kong

“Hong Kong backs down over Chinese patriotism classes”

After weeks of protests and the threat of further politicizing a populace that has been turning against mainland rule and the Communist Party, the HK government has offered a partial surrender on the issue (via BBC):

City leader Leung Chun-ying said the classes would be optional for schools.

“The schools are given the authority to decide when and how they would like to introduce the moral and national education,” he said.

The plans sparked weeks of protest and the changes came a day after activists said more than 100,000 protesters rallied at government headquarters.

Unlike the rest of China, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of freedom, including a free press, the right to assemble and transparent, accountable institutions.

The BBC’s Juliana Liu, in Hong Kong, says the row is the latest example of the cultural, social and political gap that exists between Hong Kong and its mainland masters.

It also highlights the deep suspicion with which many Hong Kong people continue to regard the Chinese government.

I wonder how schools will take this- might China try the same financial incentive schemes they use abroad to support Confucius Institutes abroad, or encourage Communist Party members in school administrations to implement the classes? And how will Hong Kongers react to schools that ‘choose’ to hold these classes- boycott the schools, or just let it go?

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Filed under education, Hong Kong, protests

“The root cause of Hong Kong’s discontent, and what can be done”

Zhongnanhai Blog has a lengthy post about Hong Kong politics and China- I’ll only post the first paragraph, and say that the rest might be worth reading in its entirety:

It’s been very interesting watching the Hong Kong Chief Executive “election” unfold this year, the first one I’ve witnessed as a Hong Kong resident. Hong Kong has long been a bastion of free market capitalism, with its free capital flows, staunchly pro-business government and laissez-faire approach to the economy. But the exercise of democracy and campaigning are still relatively new here, and watching the territory grapple with multiple issues and an uncertain future has been a fascinating experience.

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“China cannot ignore the will of Hong Kongers”

David Pilling in FT on the dangers Beijing faces in openly meddling with Hong Kong’s elections:

Opinion polls show Mr Tang with only 20 per cent of popular support against nearly 50 per cent for his main rival, C.Y. Leung, a self-made man with a strong social platform. Mr Leung has, for example, promised to build more public housing.

That presents Beijing with a real dilemma. Frank Ching, a political commentator, says that if the unpopular Mr Tang is forced on the territory it could become “ungovernable”. But Beijing may have a hard time persuading the tycoons to back Mr Leung, whom some view as a dangerous leftwinger. That may mean Beijing has to come up with a new candidate only a month before the election.

Beijing is right to worry about the sentiments of Hong Kongers. After all, they have shown their willingness to rebel before. In 2003 up to half a million people demonstrated against national security legislation thought by many to threaten freedom of speech and association. Beijing walked away from a confrontation and the legislation remains shelved to this day. In other ways, too, Hong Kong likes to flex its independence. Its courts have defended the rights of Falun Gong, a religious organisation banned on the mainland. Every June 4, Hong Kong holds a moving vigil to the victims of Tiananmen Square, something that would be impossible across the border.

One should not exaggerate. Hong Kong won’t escalate low-level rebellion beyond a certain point. Its business-savvy population knows its bread is buttered in Beijing. Indeed, Hong Kong has been given a new lease of life as a financial centre by China’s decision to make it an offshore renminbi centre. Yet that dependence cuts both ways. Hong Kong remains a vital conduit for money and an interface between communist China and the capitalist world. Beijing needs Hong Kong to work properly. That’s why it cannot afford to ignore the will of the territory’s people – whether they have a vote or not.

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“Nationality: Democrat”

Foreign Policy tracks the footholds democracy is gaining in and around China, despite the CCP’s racist claims that Chinese people are somehow unworthy of democracy:

But Beijing’s fury reflects a much deeper problem for the Party: any list of factors contributing to the development of a distinct identity among Hong Kong people would have to include civil liberties, independent courts, press freedom, and political parties. When Beijing concluded negotiations on Hong Kong’s return with the British, it promised a “high degree of autonomy” and agreed that democracy was the “ultimate aim.” Beijing, however, gave itself the right to interpret these terms, and since reassuming control of the territory it has repeatedly pushed back the date when Hong Kong people might choose their leader and legislature.

Hong Kong’s people have energetically defended their civil and political liberties. To Beijing’s chagrin, that includes holding demonstrations held each year on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. In 2003, a massive march, estimated at 500,000, defeated plans to enact legislation outlawing subversion according to Article 23 of the Beijing-drafted Basic Law — “a people’s victory over their Hong Kong puppet government and the dictatorial Chinese Communist Party,” Liu Xiaobo wrote in a 2007 essay, recently republished in a collection of his essays and poems. An uptick in the number of protestors at last summer’s July 1 demonstration has been attributed at least in part to opposition to the government’s proposal to do away with by-elections.

Taiwanese, too, have developed their own distinct identity tied to democracy. Polls show a steady climb in the percentage of people who consider themselves “Taiwanese.”

Perhaps worse, from Beijing’s perspective, as Shelley Rigger, a political scientist at Davidson College writes, Taiwanese people’s “commitment to democracy is stronger than their determination to achieve a particular outcome.” A civic identity that prioritizes democracy is an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party, which peddles a brand of nationalism based on chauvinism, xenophobia, and great power pretentions.

The democratic identity developing among Tibetans in exile is also a challenge for Beijing. Communist propaganda presents the Dalai Lama as an “evil splittist,” the representative of a backward, aristocratic elite from which the Party has emancipated the long-suffering Tibetans. In fact, the Tibetan spiritual leader long ago abandoned independence as a goal, opting instead for “genuine autonomy” within the People’s Republic. He has led the India-based Tibetan government in exile through a democratic transition. Last March, he completed the project by separating his religious duties from his political ones, turning over the latter to a prime minister elected by eligible voters among Tibetan exiles in South Asia, Europe, and the United States. The Dalai Lama has said that whether the institution of the Dalai Lama continues is up to Tibetans, and he pursues dialogue with ordinary Chinese citizens. All of this is extremely threatening to Beijing.

Like the pictures yesterday in the Atlantic, perhaps something to help reassure people who lose heart in the face of the machine Beijing has assembled to defend itself- it is at the same time beset from all sides and within by forces for change. Containing these forces is becoming a larger task every day, and I for one don’t subscribe to the notion that Beijing is infinitely powerful. Change is inevitable.

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Filed under democracy, Hong Kong, Orientalism, Taiwan

“China’s Soft Power Mission”

RealClearWorld weighs in on why Hong Kongers have been drifting away from Chinese identity:

To understand why Hong Kong seems so resistant to China’s charms, Beijing could perhaps examine its own behavior. Last August, when Vice Premier Li Keqiang visited the University of Hong Kong, he was seated in the chancellor’s chair although he was a guest. Three students who attempted to approach him were thrown to the ground by the police. The furor that followed overshadowed Li’s attempts at promoting economic development.

Chung insisted that the polling was an academic exercise unrelated to politics and refused to be drawn into a debate with his critics, citing “Cultural Revolution-style curses and defamations.”

One commentator, Song Sio-chong, wrote in the China Daily that the results of the survey were unreliable, undesirable and dangerous. “Such a distorted survey should not enjoy the so-called academic freedom,” he concluded. “If the public interest is paramount, then academic nonsense is not sacrosanct.”

In the face of this onslaught against academic freedom, part and parcel of Hong Kong’s core values, the Hong Kong government must tread a fine line. Raymond Tam, secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, denied interference by Beijing, saying that “anyone can give opinions on various matters,” as if Beijing’s spokesman in Hong Kong was just another individual whose freedom of speech needs to be protected.

Tam went on to say that academic freedom is protected by the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and “is an important social value treasured by Hong Kong.” The government, he said, has been striving to maintain an environment “so that academics can conduct academic activities, such as research and survey, uninhibited.”

To strengthen patriotic sentiment in Hong Kong, Beijing has urged the introduction of “national education” into the curriculum. Hao, the Chinese official, blandly accepted that this was tantamount to brainwashing, but said it was something that all countries do

Based on the impact of patriotic education in Tibet, I can’t imagine Hong Kong would really be drawn any closer by that, and might actually get pushed farther away.

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Filed under Hong Kong, soft power

“What Hong Kongers Need To Know”

Shanghaiist has a good quote from a Hong Kong blogger named Wen Yunchao, obviously inspired by the recent locusts/running dogs spat:

“If only Hong Kongers knew this: that if the mainland does not have democracy, Hong Kong will not have democracy, and there will be no changes in its circumstances. If Hong Kong does not have democracy, then there will be no security for Hong Kong’s liberty and rule of law, and there will be no change in its circumstances. If Hong Kongers took their dissatisfaction and anger, and used it to push for democracy in Hong Kong and the mainland, then Hong Kong would stand to gain from it, and so would the mainland.”

I can understand their anger about hospital beds and public defecation, but this seems like a much more sensible direction for them to put their efforts. Naturally, how much influence Hong Kong can have on the mainland is also a question worth answering…

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“About That Hong Kong ‘Locust’ Ad…”

The slapfight between Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese saw another escalation yesterday, when a full-page ad in a Hong Kong newspaper compared mainland Chinese to a plague of locusts. Via China RealTimeReport:

Hong Kong people, we have endured enough in silence,” said the ad, which ran in the Apple Daily, a Chinese-language paper with an average daily circulation of about 288,000 in the first half of 2011, according to Hong Kong’s Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The full-page ad, which shows a locust looking at the Hong Kong skyline, was paid for by an online fund-raising campaign on Facebook and local site Hong Kong Golden Forum, which received more than 100,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$12,900) from 800 donors in a week.

Local authorities say that some 40,000 mainland Chinese mothers gave birth in Hong Kong hospitals last year, straining the local health-care system.

“People want to protect the city for their kids, protect the education and health-care system,” he said. “Hong Kongers are welcoming to everybody, even those from China, to come and visit and shop. But they have to follow our rules, which is why we feel like we have to say something.”

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“Descendant of Confucius provokes anger by insulting Hong Kongers”

In the latest edition of “Mainlanders and Hong Kongers call each other dogs,” Kong Qingdong gives his two cents:

A Chinese professor who traces his lineage to Confucius — China’s ancient champion of harmony and courtesy — has stirred an angry bout of disharmony with a tirade against Hong Kong as a land of “dogs” and “thieves” in thrall to British colonialism.

Ignoring his illustrious ancestor’s injunction that a “gentleman should speak carefully,” Kong Qingdong of Peking University hurled abuse at the former British colony during an appearance on an Internet television talk show.

“Many Hong Kong people don’t think they are Chinese. They shout: ‘We are Hong Kong; you are China,’ ” Kong said, mocking the Hong Kong Cantonese accent. “These kinds of people got accustomed to being running dogs for British imperialists. Until now they are still dogs.” Such people, he added, “are not human. . . . They are dogs of imperialism.”

“Hong Kong people are not dogs,” said Henry Tang, who is in the running to become Hong Kong’s next chief executive, in a contest to be decided this year by a 1,200-member committee. His main rival, Leung Chun-ying, said the professor’s insults did not represent the views of most people on the mainland.

“Down with the Barking Dog Professor,” said a banner headline in Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily News.

Kong’s outburst provoked dismay as well as applause from fellow mainlanders. “Hong Kongers are dogs, and what Mr. Kong said is right,” said a posting on Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter. Official media either ignored or played down the controversy.

Meanwhile, the professor retreated slightly. He denied describing all Hong Kongers as “dogs” and said his words had been “twisted by media.”

Jackson Szeto, a Hong Kong resident who joined Sunday’s protest, scoffed at the denial. “We all know what he said. . . . He is the dog, not us.”

More on various accusations and denials of doghood as they come in.

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“What it means to be “Chinese” in Hong Kong”

Zhongnanhai Blog is back to writing about China, which is a good thing:

Chinese officials are primarily incensed because the trend is going the wrong way. Conventional thinking has always been the longer Hong Kong is part of China, the more Chinese it, and its people, will become. You can’t really blame Chinese officials for reaching such a conclusion. Having spent four years toiling in China’s state-run media machine, I’m well accustomed to ensuring we refer to the territory as “China Hong Kong”, “Chinese Hong Kong”, “Hong Kong SAR”, etc. I’ve been at CCTV when we’ve showed video of the spectacular National Day fireworks over Victoria Harbour, hosts giddy with excitement over how Hong Kong people are elated to once again be part of the motherland.

This propaganda is dangerous, because many Mainland people may believe it. If so, they may come down here expecting to be in, well, Shanghai. It’s just another of China’s glitzy cities where they can speak Putonghua, shop, and eat local treats, right? Maybe not. I won’t be breaking any new ground by saying Hong Kong is different; I’m sure that’s already understood. But I’m not sure people in China – and this goes for locals and expats – realize the degree to which Hong Kong people consider themselves different, and why they do.

It’s not that Hong Kong people don’t feel “Chinese”; in fact, there are some who claim Hong Kong is more Chinese than the Mainland, because it was spared Mao and his destructive Cultural Revolution. There are wedding traditions, funeral customs, and even holidays celebrated here that are no longer part of regular tradition north of the Lo Wu border. In other words, Hong Kong people celebrate their Chineseness and are proud of it, but they don’t like the connotations that come with the phrase “Chinese”. If somebody is “Chinese”, it generally means they come from China, and China isn’t one big monolithic entity. Thus, Hong Kong people feel the need to point out they aren’t just Chinese, but they are Hong Kong Chinese.

People here have gotten rich (and many haven’t, which is a topic for another day) and found success. But it’s a different kind of success than China is having. Hong Kong has largely kept its civility intact: corruption here is exceedingly rare (largely thanks to the ICAC), people are generally polite (cha chaan teng wait staff not included), people say sorry if they bump into you, people line up for the metro, I could go on. This is in a city that is much more densely populated, stressed-out, high-strung, and fast-paced than either Beijing or Shanghai.

I once asked a colleague, prior to National Day 2010, if she would go out and celebrate by watching the fireworks. Her reply: “Being part of China is nothing to celebrate!” Another colleague told me point blank he wished dearly that Hong Kong remained British. He said the British weren’t perfect, but Hong Kong was more “civilized” back then. He fears Hong Kong is being “overrun” by the Mainland, and its culture and uniqueness is being diluted. These are the feelings, circulating just under the surface, that gush forth at the tiniest prick. More than one Hong Konger has told me the D&G controversy has less to do with the retailer, and more to do with pent up anger at Mainland Chinese.

Finally, Hong Kong’s experience with the Mainland and people from the Mainland hasn’t exactly been a bowl of cherries. Without going into too many details, the behaviour of Mainland people is now under a microscope. Videos of kids peeing on the MTR, people yelling, and rude shoppers frequently go viral on popular Hong Kong’s BBSs, with many actually making the news. A kid peeing or defecating on a moving train is just as surprising here as it would be if it happened in Edinburgh, and it heightens prejudices when the kid then speaks Putonghua. Even my girlfriend, who is a born-and-raised Beijinger, often recoils in disgust at what she sees her compatriots do.

Unfortunately, as the University of Hong Kong survey pointed out, the divide between Hong Kong and the Mainland is growing. Mainland people and Hong Kong people rarely circulate in the same peer groups; Mainland Chinese students ripped June 4 memorial posters off the walls of Hong Kong University in 2009 to the astonishment of Hong Kong students. Hong Kong people believe they have earned their money fair and square in a transparent environment, and feel Mainland people have received it through nefarious means in a shady system.

What can be done about it? Well, a first step would be stop trying to make Hong Kong like the rest of China. I often compare Hong Kong to Quebec in Canada. Both places have “distinct societies”, both places have different historical ties, and both places have different languages. Canada made a decision to preserve the uniqueness that is Quebec; China could do the same with Hong Kong.

Like Tibet, or Taiwan, or Xinjiang, China would do best to win over the population through trust, enlightened governance and respect for differences, not by vitriolic propaganda. It would be a good first step towards making Hong Kong people feel more proud to call themselves “Chinese”.

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Filed under Cantonese, Hong Kong